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Teaching Young People Safe X Beats Just Saying No

April 10, 2002|JULIE HOLLAND

Public service announcements on TV about the drug Ecstasy, sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, inform us that users take their lives in their hands. They show images of young people passed out on dance floors with oblivious, drug-addled revelers all around them. We hear voice-overs of coroner's reports giving the gruesome details of an Ecstasy related death.

As is often the case with this organization's campaigns (remember "This is your brain on drugs" with a picture of two fried eggs?), the ads neglect to mention anything that can be done to prevent death from occurring, save complete abstinence.

Following the slogan coined by Nancy Reagan in the 1980s, the partnership wants our kids to "just say no."

As a parent, I know that saying no to my daughter does not always work. In fact, it sometimes encourages her to rebel.

Even First Lady Laura Bush, whose own children's escapades have been fodder for news coverage, was recently quoted as saying that "there's a certain time when children are not going to do what their parents want them to."

The bottom line is this: Statistics show that Ecstasy use is on the rise, year after year. The kids aren't saying no.

In the same way that most adults see the sense in teaching safe sex instead of preaching sexual abstinence to teens, we need to adopt a more enlightened approach to educating our young people about drugs.

Informing parents and teens about certain behaviors and precautions can save lives.

Instead of dire warnings and worst-case scenarios--which many teens discount because they haven't experienced them yet--we can offer practical guidelines.

A true public service message would tell kids: If you choose to use drugs, here's how to be more safe:

* Mixing Ecstasy with other drugs or alcohol increases risk.

* Heatstroke is a major life-threatening concern with Ecstasy. Stay cool, take plenty of breaks from dancing and drink water.

* Over-hydration is another danger. Drinking too much water while on Ecstasy can cause serious, potentially fatal complications. Drink only enough fluids to replace what is lost through sweating. A pint an hour is plenty.

* "Less is more." Taking one tablet carries less risk than two and so on. This also goes for frequency of use. People who use Ecstasy repeatedly risk depression, panic attacks or other psychiatric complaints.

There are reports of correlation between high-dose repeated Ecstasy use and poor performance on memory tests.

* Testing the contents of Ecstasy pills may reduce the risks associated with impurities in tablets.

* As with all drugs, driving, operating machinery or making important decisions (such as whether or not to have sex) should be deferred until sober.

Many government agencies are wary that giving honest information about drugs "sends the wrong message" to today's youth.

Yet saying that a drug is dangerous or forbidden is simply not enough when dealing with curious, novelty-seeking adolescents who often see themselves as invulnerable.

Sex education has gone a long way toward reducing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy among our nation's youth. It's time to adopt X education--honest information about Ecstasy and other drugs--to prevent more young people from dying.

*

Julie Holland, attending psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital in New York, is editor of "Ecstasy: The Complete Guide. A Comprehensive Look at the Risks and Benefits of MDMA" (Park Street Press, 2001).

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